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Eric Davis: Scheuermann steps up for GOP

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe told reporters last week that she is seriously considering entering the race for governor as a Republican.
Scheuermann was born in Burlington, grew up in Stowe, and attended the Stowe public schools. After receiving a degree in education from Saint Louis University, she spent three years in the Peace Corps, teaching English as a second language in Poland. She served two stints on the staff of Sen. James Jeffords, first from 1997 to 2000 when he was a Republican, and then from 2003 to 2006 after he had become an independent. Scheuermann was elected to the Legislature in 2006, and is completing her fourth term in the Vermont House.
If Scheuermann were to be the Republican candidate for governor this fall, she would appeal to independent and moderate voters more than the GOP’s 2012 candidate, Randy Brock. Scheuermann’s experience with Jeffords taught her that Republicans have to be moderates in order to win in Vermont. Over the last two years, Scheuermann has been associated with the efforts of Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and others to move the Vermont Republican party toward a more centrist approach less tied to the national party. In 2009, Scheuermann was one of only eight Republican legislators to vote in favor of the marriage equality bill.
Scheuermann recognizes that even a moderate Republican would face great difficulties being elected governor of Vermont, especially when running against an incumbent. She told the press last week that, if she were to become a candidate, she would face daunting challenges.
A Vermont governor has not been defeated in a re-election bid since 1962. Vermont is one of the two or three most strongly Democratic states in the entire nation. Any Republican candidate for statewide office in Vermont starts the campaign with a 10- to 20-percentage point handicap. Overcoming this disadvantage would be especially difficult for a first-time statewide candidate who has much lower name recognition than Peter Shumlin, and who would likely find it difficult to raise more than half of the more than $1 million that Shumlin already has in his campaign war chest.
If Scheuermann becomes a declared gubernatorial candidate, would she be able to win the Republican nomination unopposed, or would she face a more conservative candidate in the August Republican primary? Some of the old guard in the Vermont Republican Party do not agree with the direction that Scott, Scheuermann, and others want to take the GOP. It is possible that a conservative candidate would seek the gubernatorial nomination as a representative of Republican orthodoxy and maintaining close ties with the national party. Any resources that Scheuermann would have to devote to winning a contested primary would not be available for the general election campaign against Shumlin.
There is a long history in Vermont of candidates who lose their first statewide race and then go on to win senior elected positions. For example, Lt. Gov. Madeleine Kunin lost the gubernatorial election to Gov. Richard Snelling in 1982, when Snelling was re-elected to his fourth term. Even though Democrat Kunin lost the 1982 race by 11 points, she came back two years later and won an open-seat race for governor in the same year in which Ronald Reagan won the presidential race both nationally and in Vermont. Scheuermann might not come as close to Shumlin as Kunin did to Snelling, but even if Scheuermann were to run for governor and lose in 2014, she could still have a future as a statewide candidate in another election cycle.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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